When the Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon, Cyrus issued an edict (538BC) allowing Judah to return and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-5). However, only 50,000 returned to Palestine (Ezra 2:64-65). Many preferred to remain in Babylon, adopted their religion and law.

Southern Judea

Now the Benjamites were pushed to the north by the Judahites, as they returned after the captivity. They just couldn’t move up into Samaria: that was fully settled. So they had to leap-frog over Samaria to the vacant Galilee, to the north of that.

Hamonean Dynasty

After Alexandra the Great died, his empire was divided between 4 generals. Jerusalem was ruled by the Ptolemies.  Under Antiochus III the Seleucids wrested control of Israel from the Ptolemies for the final time, defeating Ptolemy V Epiphanes at the Battle of Panium in 198 BC.  Seleucid rule over the Jewish parts of the region then resulted in the rise of Hellenistic cultural and religious practices.

When Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 215–164 BCE), became ruler of the Seleucid Empire in 175 BCE, the High Priest in Jerusalem was Onias III. So great was the pressure from these Hellenists that in 175 B.C., the high priest’s own brother, Jason, deposed him by buying the office from the Greek king, Antiochus IV (see 2 Macc. 4:7–9).

To Antiochus, the High Priest was merely a local governor within his realm, who could be appointed or dismissed at will. Antiochus pursued a zealous Hellenizing policy. He made possession of the Torah a capital offense and burned the copies he could find.According to 1 Maccabees, he banned many traditional Jewish religious practices: Jewish sacrifice was forbidden, sabbaths and feasts were banned. Circumcision was outlawed, and mothers who circumcised their babies were killed along with their families.Altars to Greek gods were set up and stgopped  animal  sacrifices. The idol of Olympian Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple..

Three years after Jason bought the office (about 172 B.C.), one of his senior officials named Menelaus (men a lay us) beat Jason at his own game. While representing him before the king, Menelaus outbid Jason by three hundred talents of silver and became the new high priest (see 2 Macc. 4:23–24).

Jason and his two immediate successors, Menelaus and Alcimus, instituted Hellenistic reforms. The author of 2 Maccabees records that Jason “abolished the lawful way of life and introduced practices which were against the law” (2 Macc. 4:11).

A rural Jewish priest Mattathias , sparked the revolt against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek gods. Mattathias killed a Hellenistic Jew who stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Mattathias’ place. He and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judah. After Mattathias’ death about one year later in 166 BCE, his son Judas Maccabee led an army of Jewish dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty in guerrilla warfare, which at first was directed against Hellenizing Jews, of whom there were many. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the villages and circumcised boys..

After the victory, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish worship there and installing Jonathan Maccabee as high priest.  In 142 BCE Jonathan was assassinated was succeeded by Simon Maccabee the last remaining son of Mattathias. Simon appointed Antipater I as governor of Idumea (see Ant. 14.1.3). Herod the Great, Antipater I’s grandson, ruled Judea under Roman authority when the New Testament opened at the time of Christ’s birth (see Matt. 2:1–18). Simon was murdered in 134 BCE by his son-in-law Ptolemy, and was succeeded as high priest and king by his son John Hyrcanus I.

John Hycanus

Under John Hyrcanus (135-105), Judaean territory was increased by the annexation of Idumea, Samaria and Perea. The Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, long an irritation to the Jews, was demolished. The Idumeans, descendants of the Edomites who had entered Judah were forced to become Jews and accept circumcision and obedience to the Torah.

Flavus Josephus (Judahite historian and a military general of priestly and royal descent who lived from 37 A.D., to 100 A.D.) Confirms Edomite occupation in southern Judea.

“That country is also called Judea, and the people Jews; and this name is given also to as many as embrace their religion (Judaism), though of other nations. But then upon what foundation so good a governor as Hyrcanus (grandson of Mattathias patriarch of the Maccabees, a family of Judahite patriots of 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.) Took upon himself to compel these Idumeans (Edomites) either to become Jews or to leave their country, deserves great consideration. I suppose it was because they had long ago been driven out of the land of Edom, and had SEIZED ON AND POSSESSED THE TRIBE OF SIMEON (their land not the people), AND ALL THE SOUTHERN PART OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH, WHICH WAS THE PECULIAR INHERITANCE OF THE WORSHIPERS OF THE TRUE GOD WITHOUT IDOLATRY…”

The late Dr. Bertrand L. Comparet (Christian author) stated:

“During the time that the southern kingdom of Judah was practically empty during the Babylonian captivity, the EDOMITES WERE DRIVEN OUT OF MOUNT SEIR by a heavy invasion of an Arab people, the Nabateans, from the east. So the Edomites were driven westward. Now they couldn’t go southwest or straight west: weren’t strong enough to fight the Egyptians. So they went slightly north of west and TOOK OVER THE SOUTHERLY HALF OF WHAT HAD BEEN THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH, and settled there.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1903 edition, says under the heading Edom,

They were then incorporated with the Jewish nation, and their country was called by the Greeks and Romans “Idumea” . . . From this time the Idumeans ceased to be a separate nation, though the name “Idumea” still existed (in) the time of Jerome.

The Edomites lived 19 miles from Jerusalem.  The first century historian, Josephus, tells us that “they were hereafter no other than Jews” (Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1).

Est 8:17  And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.

This was written in 519 BC-465 BC because Esther was married to Xerxes, the Persian King


During Hyrcanus’ reign, the characters of the Sadducee and Pharisee parties became clearly defined, and another group called the Essenes was formed.

Ency Britannica, the Pharisees (numbering about 6,000 at the time of Herod), Essenes (about 4,000), and Sadducees (“a few men,” according to Flavius Josephus, in The Antiquities of the Jews 18.17).

Pharisee, (515 bc–ad 70).  were made up of both rabbis and influential lay people and they controlled the Synagogues.  The Sadducees were priests who controlled the Temple in Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish worship Their insistence on the binding force of oral tradition (“the unwritten Torah”) still remains a basic tenet of Jewish theological thought. When the Mishna (the first constituent part of the Talmud) was compiled about ad 200, it incorporated the teachings of the Pharisees on Jewish law.

John Hyrcanus had planned that, upon his death, his wife would take charge of civil affairs, and his son, Judas Aristobulus ( air ro stob u les), would be high priest.  When Hyrcanus died in 104, Judas imprisoned his mother and all other members of his family except his brother Antigonus.  His brother Antigonus was murdered, and his mother died of starvation in prison.

Judas Aristobulus had himself crowned king, taking the title Aristobulus I. In the single year (104) that he reigned, he seized the Galilee region for Judah and compelled the inhabitants, many of whom were of Syrian and Greek descent, to become Jews.

Janneus, a son of John Hycanus. marched on Jerusalem. Aristobulus was taken prisoner and shipped to Rome. He waged open war against the Pharisees.

In savage retaliation, Janneus released his mercenaries on the Pharisees and about 6,000 were slaughtered.  However, his sympathy with the Sadducees deeply alienated him from the Pharisees and led to a bloody civil war after which he executed hundreds of the Pharisees by crucifixion

Janneus died in 78 and the throne was bequeathed to his widow, Salome, who had taken the Greek name Alexandra, and she became the second woman to rule the Jews (78-69).

After his death, Salome Alexandra, as reigning queen, reversed his policy toward the Pharisees, leading to what is considered in Jewish tradition to be a brief golden age of educational and religious reform.  Queen Salome left two sons: Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Hyrcanus was weak, but as the older son had been appointed the High Priest during his mother’s life and then became King after her death.  However, the moment she died the two boys were literally at each others’ throats for the right to succession.

Hycanus II took the throne.  He had an advisor of Hyrcanus named Antipater, an Idumean convert who would become the father of Herod.  Civil war broke out between the two brothers.  The Sanhedrim sent a message to Pompey for help.

Rome takes Judea

In 64  Pompey marched on Jerusalem. Aristobulus was taken prisoner and shipped to Rome. Hyrcanus was appointed high priest.  There was a struggle between Pompey and Julius Caesar for the total control of the Roman Empire.  Caesar became the sole leader in the Roman Empire.  He appointed Hycanus high priest and made Antipater the ruler of Judea.

Marc Antony, gave power to Herod.  Herod, unable to control the influential office of the high priest because of his strained relationship with the Maccabean family, made a vacancy in the office when he had Aristobulus III( air ro stob u les) put to death.

Herod was then free to appoint his own high priest; in fact, during his tenure he appointed a total of seven!  According to Josephus’s record, Herod’s successors appointed another 21 before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 (see Ant. 20.10.1).

Herod continued his family’s ties with the Maccabean family. While it was the Roman Senate that had appointed him king of the Jews, he was very much aware of the need for continued support from the Maccabean dynasty. In an effort to consolidate his political power, he married Mariamne, a great-granddaughter of Alexander Jannaeus and thus an heiress to the Maccabean legacy.  Although he had ten wives, his favorite was Maraimne. Yet, he was not above murdering her, along with her mother, grandfather and brother. He ordered his two sons by her. Alexander and Aristobulas, strangled to death at Sebaste. He ordered his first-born son, by his first wife, murdered by drowning at Jericho.

Parthians take Palestine

In 40 bc the Parthians invaded Palestine, civil war broke out, and Herod was forced to flee to Rome. The senate there nominated him king of Judaea and equipped him with an army to make good his claim. In the year 37 bc, at the age of 36, Herod became unchallenged ruler of Judaea, a position he was to maintain for 32 years. At that time the Parthian Empire – who ruled the area that today encompasses Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India — decided to strike back at its old enemy, the Romans. They attacked the legions in Asia Minor and defeated them. Then they captured Damascus and came all the way to Judea and laid siege to Jerusalem.

The city fell and they killed Phasael. However, Herod escaped. The Parthians then appointed Mattathias Antigonus (son of Aristobulus) the High Priest and crowned him king.

Herod fled to Rome and returned with an army to take back his throne.  Herod prevailed and beheaded Mattathias Antigonus, whose reign lasted two years (until the year 37 BCE).

[i]  Church,  “Carthage”, p.11
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